My move to Korea continues to prove a quite challenging task indeed. Yesterday, I spent several hours at the, among foreigners much dreaded, Korean Office of Immigration. This is a necessary evil in order to receive my “alien registration card” (aww, doesn’t that word just make you feel welcome?) which is mandatory for all foreigners living in Korea. Nobody at the immigration spoke a word of English(!), and thanks to my growing headache and frustration from being transfered from counter to counter, my Korean skills certainly impressed no one, least of all myself. Thus, the whole thing became slightly more challenging than expected, and there’s now a Korean ajumma working at the immigration office, whom I have no intention of ever speaking to again. And I’m sure the feeling is mutual. After what felt like hours of explaining in Korean, she agressively stamped all my papers and then looked sternly at me with a “Finish! You go now!” Wuh-Pssssssh! Count me Seoul-slapped for the 17th time in one week!
I should also mention that one of the hurdles before going to the immigration office was having my photo taken. I needed a passport portrait to submit with my registration application, and in any other case this would just be a five-minute task. However, somehow, I wound up in a Korean photo studio, where the kind ajusshi offered to slightly photoshop my portrait to make it look prettier. Result: my way too big forehead, crooked smile, fine lines around my eyes, asymmetric jaw, complexion flaws, too small eyes, and asymmetric eyebrows were corrected, making me look like an expressionless and slightly scared manga doll. And there I thought “slightly photoshop” was just a light airbrushing! Boy, was I wrong. I was having fun while he redid my photo on his screen, constantly saying 예쁘신데… (you’re pretty, buuut…), but I felt strangely violated afterwards. Having your face blown up and all your flaws highlighted and corrected on a huge screen takes more guts than I had imagined. Well, a cultural experience for sure, and yet another testiment to the Korean obsession with beauty.
On the bright side, I really love my new office, and all my colleagues are very sweet. They love that I can speak Korean, and they are all eager to teach me more. In general, this is just such a friendly department, and over lunch my boss even taught me a few Korean ajusshi jokes (mostly puns) and asked about the meaning of certain English slang. I can feel that my Korean is improving every day, and that’s an amazing feeling. I just feel so welcome and included, and I can’t wait to start teaching next week. I’ve just met with my teaching assistant, a very sweet master student who will assist me during lectures, taking attendance and uploading my slides for me. I’ve never had that kind of assistant before, another perk of working in Korea apart from speaking Korean all day.